The former Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan has been arrested. He is the last of five senior Khmer Rouge leaders detained under the authority of Cambodia’s tribunal for atrocities committed during the Khmer Rouge period. The Khmer Rouge government was responsible for the deaths of more than one-million seven-hundred thousand Cambodians from torture, executions, starvation, and forced labor between 1975 and 1979.
Khieu Samphan was a close associate of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader who died in 1998. Mr. Samphan joined the Khmer Rouge movement in 1967 and remained in the top tier of leadership through its four-year rule and through the civil war that followed. Mr. Samphan has denied responsibility for Khmer Rouge atrocities.
Other top Khmer Rouge leaders recently detained include Ieng Sary and his wife, former social affairs minister Ieng Thirith. Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith were charged with crimes against humanity. Kaing Khek Iev was arrested in August. He has admitted heading the S-21 prison in Phnom Penh where the Khmer Rouge's prisoners were tortured and forced to confess to a variety of crimes before they were killed. Nuon Chea, the movement's chief ideologist, has also been detained.
The Cambodian tribunal is likely to begin holding trials in the next year. The court consists of Cambodian and international jurists and was established pursuant to a 2003 agreement between the United Nations and the government of Cambodia.
The United States strongly supports bringing to justice senior leaders responsible for the atrocities committed under the Communist Khmer Rouge regime. The U.S. has provided more than seven million dollars over the past decade for research to document the crimes of the Khmer Rouge.
Virtually all of Cambodia's thirteen million people have relatives who perished under the Khmer Rouge. In order for the country to move forward, it is vital that Khmer Rouge leaders be held accountable for their crimes. Respect for the rule of law and the existence of institutions of justice are Cambodia's best defense against future abuses and a fitting memorial to those who lost their lives or loved ones to the Khmer Rouge.